Team-mates help Crouch stand tall against detractors

The wait for an inviting delivery from a Liverpool colleague this season goes on for Crouch, although it was an equally familiar problem of image that explained the more hysterical criticism of the striker on his competitive debut for England on Saturday. A good player, with more natural ability than he has been given credit for, but is he good enough for England? It is the same question that has surrounded him at club level from the moment Rafael Benitez gave Southampton £7m for his services in August and one that supporters, coaches and critics remain divided upon still.

To be fair to the BBC pundits at Old Trafford there was no division at all: the Alans, Hansen and Shearer, a man in a position to highlight the standards expected of an England centre-forward, were unequivocal in their denunciation. By way of an emphatic contrast, Crouch's team-mates at Anfield and in his new-found international arena applaud his selfless contribution to a man, and not out of respect for a thoroughly decent colleague who has fought against the detractors and up the ranks throughout his career. The answer to the aforementioned question is, in keeping with his performance against Austria, somewhere in between.

Crouch delivered a fine first-half performance for England before fading after the interval - clearly a Sven Goran Eriksson international in the making then - but it was not a display that warranted the criticism that flowed from sections of the crowd and on the phone-ins afterwards. There were ironic cheers and shouts of "Jump!" whenever the Liverpool man, back in his customary lone forward's role once David Beckham was sent off and Michael Owen had retreated to the head of a diamond before being replaced, chased another hopeful punt in the second half - disgusting treatment of any player, but especially one on their World Cup qualifying debut.

"I didn't hear that at all," Eriksson said. "And I would be very surprised because I think he did a good job. You know what Crouch can give you. It's his second match for England."

His unconventional frame does bring with it an added pressure to dominate the skies and, despite coming into direct confrontation with the outstanding centre-half at Old Trafford, Austria's Paul Scharner, Crouch did prosper in the air with telling effect, notably with the flick that led to the foul on Owen and ultimately settled not only the game but England's qualification for Germany.

In a promising opening that could have established a more comfortable lead with more conviction and accuracy around the Austrian area, the 24-year-old was involved in almost every threatening move. A threaded pass to Owen in the 17th minute would, on a sharper day for the Newcastle striker, have developed into a goal assist, while the turn and lay-off that almost presented Luke Young with the opener was one of the rare occasions when England got behind the visiting rearguard.

"I heard someone on television criticising him, but I thought he played really well," Frank Lampard said. "It was his first qualifying game and he laid off some good balls and put Michael through in the first half and was always a threat to them. He is a great target and is going to be a very important player for us. Any player who plays with Peter Crouch enjoys it. I am confident that when I run forward Crouchy is going to lay it off to me - that's the kind of player he is."

He is also a player, however, whose physique belies a lack of power, aggression and pace. Without those attributes Crouch will remain a useful if not an outstanding player on the international stage, although he does have nine months, and an almost certain place at the World Cup, in which to find them.

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